21 Sep Plaintiffs Celebrate Victory in Challenge to H.B. 1020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 21, 2023
PLAINTIFFS CELEBRATE VICTORY IN CHALLENGE TO H.B. 1020
Jackson Residents Say Legislators Should End Their Attempted Takeover of Jackson
JACKSON, Miss. – The three Jackson, Mississippi residents who sued to block judicial appointments to the Hinds County Circuit Court and the creation of a new Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) court in Jackson, say today’s Mississippi Supreme Court ruling blocking the appointment of four circuit court judges in Hinds County as required by H.B. 1020 and making clear that those appearing in the new CCID court have a right to appeal unfavorable decisions demonstrates why it is so important for Mississippi voters to stay informed and fight back when their rights are at stake. Ann Saunders, one of those plaintiffs, said, “As a citizen of Jackson who has traced my family’s documented presence in Mississippi back to 1855, I am grateful for the clarity of the state constitution regarding the election of circuit court judges, and I am grateful for the Justices affirming that constitutional requirement.”
According to plaintiff Sabreen Sharrief, who has lived in Jackson for 14 years, “As soon as I heard about H.B. 1020 and how it was directed only at Jackson, I knew I had to fight back. It’s time for Mississippi to do the right thing by her people which is true and equal justice for all. I love this city, and it was wrong for legislators to try to take away the rights of people here in a way that no other Mississippians have to suffer.”
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled today that the judicial appointments required by H.B. 1020 are unconstitutional because Mississippi’s constitution expressly states that circuit court judges “shall be elected by the people.” The Court also ruled that decisions of the new CCID court established under H.B. 1020 are appealable despite the fact that H.B. 1020 does not mention any such right. Contrary to the plaintiffs’ position in their challenge, the Court recognized a narrow means to appoint temporary judges under an older Mississippi law upon an “emergency or overcrowded docket.” But the court expressly found that judges appointed under that provision may serve only until the emergency or overcrowded docket is resolved.
Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, argued the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiffs. In response to today’s ruling, Johnson said, “We certainly are pleased that the Supreme Court agreed with us that the Legislature’s attempt in H.B. 1020 to strip voters of the right to elect their local judges was an unconstitutional overreach. We’re also thankful for the court’s clarity regarding the right to appeal the decisions of the new CCID court. We recognize, however, that the fight to protect the autonomy of local communities from state control will continue, and we are prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Legislature whenever they cross constitutional boundaries.”
Throughout the 2023 legislative session, opponents of H.B. 1020 and S.B. 2343 described the actions of the Legislature as an attempted “takeover” of Jackson. Plaintiff Dorothy Triplett hopes today’s victory will discourage such actions in the future. Ms. Triplett said, “My hope is that today’s ruling will convince legislators that the people of Jackson aren’t just going to roll over when targeted, especially when fundamental principles of our democracy are attacked. The right to vote was expanded to include citizens of all races and genders through years of hardship and literal ‘blood sweat and tears.’ Rather than attempting a hostile takeover, perhaps Mississippi leaders will at long last work with Jackson in ways that are cooperative and collaborative.”
Plaintiffs also were represented by the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Mississippi Center for Justice, and the ACLU of Mississippi. Amir Badat, Voting Special Counsel at LDF, added, “We are glad the Court recognized that the state constitution prohibits the legislature from robbing Hinds County residents of the right to elect their own circuit court judges and allowing the operation of an inferior court with no clearly established right of appeal. This legislation is part of a shameful trend across the country to deny the will of Black voters, and we are proud to have supported these residents in fighting for their voices to be heard about decision-making that will fundamentally affect their community and their lives.”
“The Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) commends the Mississippi Supreme Court on its decision to uphold the law and not circumvent the constitutional rights of the voters of Jackson and Hinds County. The state’s attempt to thwart democracy and disenfranchise the citizens of Jackson and Hinds County was, in fact, unconstitutional,” said Vangela M. Wade, President & CEO of MCJ. “The people of Jackson and Hinds County have made their voices heard, loud and clear. We continue to stand in the fight with Mississippians to protect their right to vote without state interference, and to hold state actors accountable to our state’s and nation’s systems of justice and equity.”
Paloma Wu, Deputy Director of Impact Litigation at MCJ added, “Community-based organizations like those in the JXN Undivided Coalition and others operate data-driven, road-tested programs and initiatives that demonstrably address local challenges and which could and should be expanded through government investment. Lawmakers should learn from local experts and resist discriminatory impulses to take over.”
Joshua Tom, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, concluded, “State leaders in Mississippi attempted a naked power grab from the residents and leaders of Jackson. They failed. The Supreme Court’s ruling confirms their actions violated Mississippi’s Constitution. If Mississippi’s leaders want to help, they should work with the people of Jackson.”
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The Jxn Undivided Coalition stands for supporting—through protests, other direct actions, and through community and legal engagement—the right to vote, the right to flourish, and the right of political self-determination for Jackson residents. The Coalition was founded to resist state takeover of the rights and resources of residents of Jackson, Mississippi, which is a majority-Black and Black-led city, by the state of Mississippi and its lawmakers, who are majority-white. Community education, organizing, and public demonstrations are foundational means by which we have and will continue to impact political outcomes and the lives of our members and loved ones in the Jackson community. #JxnUndivided.
The MacArthur Justice Center is one of the premier public interest law firms in the United States. The firm’s offices are located in Chicago (Northwestern Law School), St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Oxford, Mississippi (University of Mississippi School of Law). The MacArthur Justice Center litigates a wide range of civil rights cases, with particular emphasis on reform of the criminal legal system. Additional information is available at www.macarthurjustice.org.
For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, we take up the toughest civil liberties fights. Beyond one person, party, or side — we the people dare to create a more perfect union. The ACLU of Mississippi is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Mississippians guaranteed under the United States and Mississippi Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU. Visit https://www.aclu.org/ and https://www.aclu-ms.org/ for more information.
The Mississippi Center for Justice is dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.